On Friday November 9th, two traditional powers will meet on the hardwood on the USS Yorktown. The Ohio State Buckeyes reached the Final Four last season after finishing in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten regular season standings. Marquette advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and finished second in the 16-team Big East Conference.
Both teams have lost arguably their two top players from 2011-12, with Ohio State losing Jared Sullinger and William Buford, while Marquette's Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom departed. Nonetheless, both teams have high expectations for 2012-13. Ohio State is a top five team depending on the poll you look at, while Marquette is a fringe top 25 team.
The following article previews each team's starting lineups, so that we can better look at who has the advantage in each matchup. Either way, it should be an entertaining contest, not only because of the uniqueness of playing on an aircraft carrier, but also because it should be a close game throughout.
The point guard battle starts between Junior Cadougan and Aaron Craft. As a junior, Cadougan averaged 6.3 points and 5.4 assists, but only shot 38 percent from the field. As a senior, Cadougan may have to take on more of a scoring role, while still distributing to his talented Golden Eagle wings and bigs.
Craft, a junior, averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds a year ago, but don't be surprised to see all of those numbers increase as Craft's role will increase. Craft also averaged 2.5 steals and is regarded by many in the college basketball world as the nation's best defensive player. The former high school quarterback seemingly gets to every loose ball and plays relentless on-ball defense.
After coming to Milwaukee as a highly-touted recruit, Vander Blue has yet to live up to the expectations associated with him prior to his collegiate career. Last season, Blue averaged a modest 8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists, but was inconsistent at times. Look for Blue to take some of the scoring load off from losing Johnson-Odom and Crowder to the NBA.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. averaged 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists last season, but took the backseat to the other four Buckeye starters. Smith Jr. stepped up in the NCAA Tournament, however, and could become part of a big three combo along with fellow juniors Craft and Deshaun Thomas. The lefty from Zion, IL does, however, need to improve his free throw shooting.
Edge: Smith Jr. (although only slightly)
After three years at Arizona State, Trent Lockett decided to take his talents to Milwaukee. Lockett is a huge addition for Buzz Williams' squad, having averaged 13.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor. Lockett could become Marquette's go-to-guy on what should be a very well-balanced scoring attack.
LaQuinton Ross only saw the court for 35 minutes last season as a freshman, scoring 18 points during those nine contests. Ross was ineligible the first half of the season, leaving him in Thad Matta's doghouse for the second half of the year. Nonetheless, the 6'8" Ross should start at the "3" and could become an instant impact player.
When both Chris Otule and Davante Gardner went down with injuries midseason, Jamil Wilson became the de-facto starting center for Marquette, despite only standing 6'7" and weighing 225 pounds. Wilson's final season averages were 7.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, but became a key piece of last year's success after stepping into his new role. Expect Wilson to play power forward this season, as both Otule and Gardner return.
Deshaun Thomas may be the best true scorer in the Big Ten and possibly the nation. As a sophomore, Thomas averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Thomas is also left-handed, but will need to adjust to his new role of primary scorer and will no longer have the luxury of benefiting off other teams double teaming Sullinger.
It's unclear as to who will start at center for Marquette on Friday night. Chris Otule, who sat a majority of last season with injury, is back and will be a huge help defensively in the paint. Davante Gardner is an offensively minded player, who stands 6'8" and weighs 290 pounds gets himself into position effectively and has a nice touch around the hoop. Prior to the injury, Otule was the team's starter, although I predict Gardner to get the nod on Friday.
Amir Williams becomes Jared Sullinger's replacement and has big shoes to fill. Williams is not nearly as skilled offensively as Sullinger was, but the uber-athletic Williams should provide the Buckeyes with an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. Evan Ravenel should also see time at center, but the younger Williams has more upside which should help him win the starting job.
Totals: 3-2 Ohio State
Final Score Prediction: 73-69 Ohio State